Talking a lot of rubbish

BY Christopher Windsor

Mr. Izzard, I presume?

"Oh yeah, right. How're you then?" comes the response, a little groggy, though it's already 2 p.m. Then again, it may just be the speaker's Bexhill lilt, unfamiliar to these North American ears.

Fine, sir. I'd like to speak to you about your upcoming show in Toronto.

"Oh yes. I've been to Toronto. Twice. Once when I was 12. You have wonderful straight roads. This is important, because I tend to throw up in cars, but of course that has nothing to do with anything. Now, what was the question?"

My understanding is that you played Toronto a few years back, and while I didn't see the show, it appears to have been terrifically well received.

"I hope so."

Well, I was just wondering what I would have missed.

"Oh, I have no idea really. I talk so much rubbish. I couldn't possibly know what I was on about. You see, I don't actually write anything down. I have a very good instant memory, and a very faulty long-term one."

You don't write anything down?

"I'm lazy. And I don't like writing. Besides, it's not really suited to the kind of comedy I do."

Which is?

"Oh, you know, surreal bonkers stuff."

So much for that. Eddie Izzard has been called a lot of things, but overly concerned about self-promotion is not one of them. Mind you, this aspect of the remarkable British performer's career has pretty much already been taken care of for him. The '90s have belonged to Izzard. He has been called the funniest man alive by more than one august English journal, and won a slew of U.K. awards. His widely toured shows have sold out their West End and Off-Broadway runs. Peter Marks, writing recently in the The New York Times about Izzard's stand at the legendary Manhattan performance space PS 122, characterized him as a "waggish prodigy who simply can't turn the comedy off," calling him "very, very funny."

Izzard resists easy attempts to describe his material, but cites Monty Python, Richard Pryor and Steve Martin as influences. The Pythons' sense of the absurd and willingness to make surreal juxtapositions are elements to be found in Izzard's work. Ditto Richard Pryor's intense physicality -- Izzard is known for punctuating stories with visual humor and employing outright mime. Even his stage presence is somewhat arresting, given his fondness for makeup, nail polish and women's clothes.

Dress to Kill, the name of the current show, "is really just an excuse for me to wear fancy clothes, although, of course, I haven't a clue what to wear!" he says. Not that a great deal of labor goes into naming each show. That would suggest that there was a cohesiveness to the material beyond Izzard's ability to segue from one flight of fancy to another. Or not. "I used to worry about linking bits," he says, "but then I got bored."

Izzard's earlier show, Definite Article, featured riffs on everything from fruit to Latin, the Big Bang, Hannibal's Elephants, parrots and James Bond. One bit, which begins in a supermarket, somehow segues into a riff on the importance of having a long name to run the United Nations, like Javier Perez de Cuellar or Boutros Boutros-Ghali. "Can you imagine some guy coming up and introducing himself as Jeff Smith? (BEAT) Yeah, well, fuck off Jeff. Now Jeff Jeff Smith Smith, well, come on in!"

Then Izzard is on about Hitler's moustache: "Charlie Chaplin had been taking the piss out of that moustache for 30 years and then Hitler comes along and says, 'Yep, that's the one for me.' Ah, Hitler. Sort of ruined his family name for marketing purposes though, didn't he? Not much of a market for 'Hitler's Jam.' "

Or this Izzard riff, on Pavlov's dog: "'Day one: Rang bell. Dog ate. Proved dog had ears.' You don't hear much about Pavlov's cats, though. 'Day one: Rang bell. Cat fucked off.' "

Like the man says, he just talks a lot of rubbish. But funny.